I don’t like Interstate highways. People drive too fast and see nothing. As Charles Kuralt famously quipped. “Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.”
Reno to Fernley
Between Reno and Fernley the Interstate ruins an otherwise pretty canyon where the Truckee River runs eastward to its demise.. What hasn’t been disturbed by the freeway on the north bank has been swallowed by the industrial spread of Reno and environs on the opposite bank. The Interstate covered U. S. 40 which in turn covered the Lincoln Highway.
It is not possible to “get there from here” any more. The south bank of the river is dedicated to railroad and the north side to the highway, however the discerning or imaginative eye may see traces of the old emigrant road on the south side of the river. The local roads are hard to find and none of them seem to “go through.” It is possible to ignore these prejudices and imagine the solitude of the canyon back in the day and in fact there are pretty sights to be seen today. Go to Google Earth and look at some of the photos that have been posted.
The 1916 Guide lists three locations between Sparks and Fernley, namely Vista, Derby, and Wadsworth.
For a time the old Lincoln ran through the little town of Wadsworth, just to the north of I-80. At the time of the 1916 Guide the population was listed as 1,309 souls. Its neighbor, Fernley, now much larger, had a population of just 100.
I confess I didn’t visit Wadsworth this trip. You should take the eastbound exit for State Highway 427 or the westbound exit for Fernley but turn north. This will be Main Street on either end and roughly the route of the LHW in and out of town.
The West Truckee River divides Wadsworth in two and provides irrigation to several large concerns north of town and empties into Pyramid Lake. It was a river the Lincoln had to cross.
East of the river is a turnoff for Lincoln Highway. This will lead you to an intersection with Bridge Street at 0.4 miles from Main, although it may not be marked.
West of the river is Virginia Street which will lead to Bridge Street at 0.2 miles from Main.
These two points are the ends of the bridge which took the Lincoln Highway over the river. Now the bridge is just a narrow pedestrian affair. ( 39° 38.098′N 119° 16.924′W)
West of the river, one block southeast of the Wadsworth Post Office is Herman Street which was part of the route of the LHW through town.
Sidebar: Wadsworth is the jumping off point for folks heading to the famous Burning Man festival north at the Black Rock Desert.
Fernley is where you normally will get off or on the Interstate. This is where you also leave old U.S. 40 and where you begin Alt. 50, the northwestern end of The Loneliest Road in America and a subject well worth exploring. Click the link and find out more, because that is roughly where we are headed.
There isn’t much to excite one there at the exit, except the cheapest gas for miles around. Top off your tank here (39° 36.857′N 119° 15.972′W) for either eastbound or westbound travel.
In Fernley there are a few things to see. I remember eating a couple of times at the Wigwam Restaurant on the main drag and not being disappointed. There are many fascinating Native American artifacts there. There is a picturesque restored train station on the way eastward near the end of town that was once the headquarters of the Fernley and Lassen Railroad (39° 36.345N 119° 14.256W) However that was not its original location. It has been moved.
The town is exhibiting sprawl like so many other places in Nevada. The strip malls are everywhere. The small section of old Fernley has a little charm. There is a new roundabout (surprise, surprise) at the east end of town and then the glorious four-lane, divided highway that runs all the way to Fallon.
If you are determined as I was to drive the 1913 route then turn south at the roundabout onto State Rte. 828, Farm District Road and follow it as it eventually turns eastward and runs into Alt U. S. 50 here: 39° 34.732′N 119° 6.284′W. Turn right and head to Fallon.
U.S.50 from Carson City joins near Fallon ( 39° 30.817′N 118° 56.419′W). The original Pioneer Branch junction is .34 miles southeast of here where travelers could choose to go through Carson City and South Lake Tahoe to Placerville or take the Truckee Branch and Donner Pass. In either case they would end up eventually in Sacramento.
Fallon is the last of the strip mall environment on this road. Fallon is home to a Naval Air Station where the “Top Gun” pilots are trained. Yes I know it seems weird to have the Navy out here on the edge of the desert but there is something even stranger.
Coming into Fallon from the west I saw a small sign on the north side of the road. It was for a United States Coast Guard detachment. What? It seems that the Coast Guard (my old service) had an operational Loran-C transmitter (global navigation before gps) with a 625′ tower in operation here from 1976 until 2010. Now that was a surprise to me.
Fallon looks like every other mid-size town in America with the usual suspects of McDonalds and Burger Kings, Walmarts, etc. Some mitigating charm can be found just of U.S. 50 by turning south onto Maine Street where the old downtown has undergone a restoration. Ten blocks further down Maine Street is the absolutely wonderful Churchill County Museum. Seriously, take a break here and enjoy the fine exhibits. Then head back up town to find a bite to eat at one of the local eateries. I like Slanted Porch at 310 South Taylor Street – very friendly place. There are many others.
The Lincoln Highway came into town from the south but the Naval Air Station runways covered up most of it. Frankly there is not much point in trying to find the old road here since one keeps running into government fences. So let’s do the next best thing and head out of town into the desert where we can really start exploring.
Next Up: Let’s Talk About the Desert and “What is that I’m Looking At?”